While the routine of the 9-to-5 working day has provided structure to millions of people across the UK, many are now questioning whether it is suitable for the modern working world – especially with flexible working on the rise.
Indeed, we now see more and more employees calling on employers to grant them power to dictate their own working hours. Consequently, more companies are considering adopting flexible working structures, to offer their staff the freedom to find their ideal work/life balance.
As one might expect, flexible working will mean different things to different people. For some, it will mean coming into the office later to do the school run. For others, it might mean working from home one day a week to avoid a stressful commute.
Given the various variations of flexible working, it is vital that managers fully engage with their staff, to fully understand what changes can be made to accommodate their needs. This will inevitably require a lot of time and effort, however when done correctly, flexible working can bring benefits to the business as well as the workforce.
Evidence from the Chartered Institute for Personnel Development shows this, with their recent report highlighting numerous cases were employees who are allowed flexible working saw a boost in their productivity, morale and mental health.
However, in the run-up to the general election, we saw the focus shift away from flexible working towards the four-day week. Whil this may be an attractive proposition for many – a recent survey of 2,000 UK adults in full time employment by Know Your Money revealed that 75% of UK adults in full-time employment would be in favour condensing their usual working hours into a four-day week– there are still significant question marks over the proposed policy.
A step beyond flexible working?
At a glance, one can understand why the four-day working week has grabbed headlines. After all, over a third (32%) of those surveyed in Know Your Money’s aforementioned research are unhappy with their current work/life balance, so it is hardly surprising that the prospect of being away from the office for three (rather than two) days is an attractive prospect.
What’s more, the high-profile experimentation of the four-day working week by Microsoft Japan has further highlighted its potential benefits – it was claimed that productivity within the organisation increased by 40% as a result of a shorter working week.
However, it would be ill-advised to assume that this is a case of one-size-fits-all. Many modern businesses will find the four-day working week much more difficult to implement. For many employees, a shorter working week will be an extension of flexible working; it will enable them to pick and choose whether they take a full-day off, or they spread out their working hours over seven days (for example).
In reality, it may be extremely difficult to manage effectively by businesses as, as established before, every employee will have different needs. A four-day working week could require a need for greater regimentation, rather than increased employee flexibility; this could be counterproductive to the overall ambition of increasing workforce productivity.
Additionally, the adoption of a four-day week would cause many businesses to re-evaluate their entire structure. It is therefore likely that many organisations might lack the capacity and resource to do so; this again, could ultimately be counterproductive to the improving workplace performance. Perhaps then, it is wrong to assume that such an initiative will bring automatic benefits.
What is the next step?
It is impossible to deny that the needs of the modern workforce are changing and if managers want to attract and retain high-quality employees, they must adapt accordingly – after all, over a quarter (28%) of the workforce have left a job in the previous 12 months because the role offered little flexibility. However, this does not mean that the four-day week should be seen as the immediate solution.
Managers must take the first step and engage with their employees, in order to find out their specific needs. This will help them understand the structural changes that should be made, to ensure their teams are happy, and business productivity is improving.
With the proper controls, and policies in place, we will inevitably see many employers adopting greater flexibility in the workplace. What is important to remember, however, is that it will never be a case of one company policy being easily universalizable. Every organisation has different capacities and priorities; although it may currently be in high demand and have potential benefits, it is wrong to assume that a four-day working week will be suitable for every employee or employer.
About the Author
Nic Redfern is the Finance Director at KnowYourMoney.co.uk